Buddha, Dharma, Sangha – Josie Barrow

What does Buddha, Dharma, Sangha mean to me? As a newbie to practice, these Buddhist words haven’t quite infiltrated my mind fully yet so I need to constantly remind myself. My very basic understanding of these words (from Google) is that the Buddha is the Enlightened/Awakened One, the Dharma is the teaching of the Awakened One, and the Sangha is the community of people who practice the Dharma.

Buddha for me is who I am when I am free from self-centred thoughts or self-concern. Buddha is also an aspirational symbol. When I think of Buddha, it drives me to be Buddha or to express my Buddha nature. But what does this look like? Well, it doesn’t look like anything in particular; it’s not something I thought I could show people. It may be something others can sense, but at the same time it may piss people off. My friend reminded me that I can show people: it’s everything that I do, it’s just some people don’t see it. Maybe it is, but I feel that I express my Buddha nature only when I’m fully aware of what I’m doing. I experience being Buddha as a sense of ease and harmony inside myself. It may not look calm and balanced on the outside, but if I am truly responding to the moment as it is then I experience a sense of peace inside. Buddha also acts as a reminder for me to live compassionately. For example, there was a period of time where I would walk past litter on the ground and think to myself “oh dear, that’s terrible, who would drop that litter when there’s a bin right there?” Then I would ask myself, “should I pick it up?” I would walk past feeling bad about the litter and bad about myself for not doing anything. Then I ask myself “what would Buddha do?” Well, I think Buddha would just go right ahead and pick up the litter and put it in the bin. So that’s what I do, within reason. I walk on with no trace, or at least I try.

Dharma, the teachings. Since starting Zen practice just over a year ago, I’ve read about one Zen book per month to date and attended weekly dharma talks. I’ve tried to catch up with the Sangha and gain a better understanding of the teachings so I can ask better questions and contribute to talks. I don’t fully grasp the teachings and I don’t always know exactly what to do and have a difficult time actualising them, but I just love them. Sometimes they really frustrate me and I feel I just don’t understand, or there’s something I just don’t agree with. Sometimes they are really beautiful, simple and direct. This is all part of the enjoyment of engaging with them.  The teachings support and confirm my experience of life. I gain confidence to be myself through understanding the teachings. (I’ll take this opportunity to thank Roshi and the other  teachers at the Sangha for their Dharma talks. They excite and revitalise me.)

When I think of Sangha I think of community and responsibility. Just knowing there are other people taking practice seriously is very encouraging. I feel supported and looked out for by my Sangha. I also feel I have a responsibility to do the same – to support and look out for people, but also a responsibility to bring my full self to the Sangha. Whether that’s in person or virtually, it’s a safe place for me to practise this. I often remind myself to be part of, not apart from, the Sangha and this changes how I behave. It reminds me that my presence has an influence on the Sangha, no matter how great or small. There is an influence and I can choose how. Rather than feeling like I’m using a service I can feel like I’m also simultaneously creating it. Having Sangha in my life has helped to take those ways of being into other aspects of my life. It reminds me that I can be a creative force, however subtle.